Queen Wilhemina 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy NIOD)
THE HAGUE – The Dutch parliament and cabinet this month will consider issuing a
formal state apology for the government’s silence on the extermination of over
100,000 Dutch Jews during the Holocaust.
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The issue, which Geert Wilders’s
Party for Freedom raised on Wednesday in parliament, follows statements by two
former ministers supporting the apology.
However, the Jewish community
responded to the initiative unenthusiastically, and historians from the
University of Amsterdam told The Jerusalem Post
that the debate was “politically
motivated” and that an apology was “unnecessary.”
“We now know that the
persecution of the Jews hardly bothered Queen Wilhelmina,” former Dutch deputy
prime minister Els Borst said in an interview recently published in Dr. Manfred
Gerstenfeld’s book Judging The Netherlands: The Renewed Holocaust Restitution
Queen Wilhelmina devoted five sentences to the fate of her
Jewish subjects in five years of radio broadcasts from exile in
The Dutch queen and government escaped Germany’s occupation of
the country in 1940 by fleeing to London.
The Germans relied heavily on
the collaborationist Dutch Nazi party (NSB) to administer daily life and
facilitate the extermination of roughly 85 percent of Holland’s 140,000
In Gerstenfeld’s book, former Dutch finance minister Gerrit Zalm is
quoted as saying: “I would have had no problem offering such an apology and
would’ve supported doing so had the Central Jewish Board broached the
On Wednesday, Wilders, whose party is the thirdlargest in the
Netherlands, called the exiled government’s “passive approach” to the
persecution of Jews “shocking” and filed a parliamentary query addressed to
Premier Mark Rutte, asking whether he was prepared to issue the apology. The
government has two weeks to reply.
Ronny Naftaniel, director of the
Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, agreed that “the Dutch
government in exile – and especially Queen Wilhelmina – were passive and
indifferent to the fate of the Jews. That’s an ugly episode in history which
merits an apology.”
However, he said, “the Jewish community shouldn’t
solicit an apology, which should come from the heart of Dutch
An apology “may be a nice gesture,” according to Shlomo Berger,
a professor for Hebrew and Jewish studies at the University of Amsterdam, “but
as a political issue with no impact, it would be unnecessary.”
Wallet, a historian from the same university, told the Post that demanding an
apology was superfluous in light of past statements of regret by Dutch officials
for the fate of the country’s Jewry.
In her address at the Knesset in
1995, Queen Beatrix referred to Dutchmen who saved Jews as
“exceptions.” She linked this observation with the statement that “the
people of The Netherlands could not prevent the destruction of their Jewish
A decade later, then-prime minister Jan Peter
Balkenende called the deportation of Jews a “pitch black chapter” in his
country’s history. He added: “We can point to many examples of courage,
friendship and solidarity. But of indifference, cold-heartedness and
“I’m not sure what more can be asked of the Dutch
government,” said Wallet, who specializes in Dutch Jewish history. He added that
he suspected the anti-Muslim Party for Freedom was calling for an official
apology in order to mend fences with the Jewish community following the party’s
support for a controversial bill to ban ritual slaughter.
about this issue should be left to historians. Statements by present-day
politicians, former and present, are not helping our understanding of what
happened,” Wallet added. According to him, the government in exile made a
conscious choice not to speak up for any particular element in Dutch society out
of a principled decision to view that society as one unit.
of the German occupation were radically different, and the government in exile
failed to adapt to the unique circumstances on the ground in time,” he
But Borst takes a different view.
“The [exiled] government’s
attitude testified that its members, like many others, saw the Jewish Dutchmen
as a special group who were not real Dutchmen,” she said.